Not a typical day at work.

First, I love my job, the people with whom I work, the work we do, and our district. I enjoy just about everyday.

Then there was today. WASA (Washington Association of School Administrators) hosted its Winter Conference. The conference was entirely virtual. Lots of organizations host conferences, and hosting them virtually isn’t big news these days.


Our learning today featured 3 speakers, each of whom challenged me and us in ways that were remarkable. The speakers were Tim Shriver, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Marc Brackett.

The bulk of the conversation was focused on relationships, mental health, and their impact on students’ learning.

Here are a couple of slides that grabbed me, among all the slides that grabbed me:

Also words. Words that I want to remember and from which we can launch and continue our work.

“The human relationship is the foundation of the learning relationship.” -Tim Shriver

“What kind of normal do we want to get back to?” Sir Ken Robinson

Dr. Rita Walkers ABCs. A: assume you can help B: be a good listener C: Cancel judgement

And we heard from a student named Micah. Micah asked Tim Shriver questions via a communication device. His questions were profound and moving. As were’s Tim’s thoughtful responses. One of Tim’s responses had a group of 154 leaders in tears. What has he learned from Special Olympic athletes?

The power of networks and conferences lies in the elimination of loneliness in a struggle. There are good people everywhere, doing good work, caring for each other, calling out mental health emergencies (90% increase in students seeking mental health support post COVID), and designing solutions to present, hard problems.

Thank you to WASA for an amazing morning, our 3 excellent speakers, and Micah.

A good day at work.

Our Words

Our central office lives in one of our recently retired elementary schools. Lots of kid and teacher echoes in our hallways. I just walked over to see a colleague and was struck by the words we have chosen for our walls. Our daily reminders. Here they are:

I’m proud to work in a place that lives these words and thinks enough of them to commit them to public display.

Here are some of our other words:

Vision: The vision of Fife Public Schools is to be an inclusive and affirming learning organization that inspires achievement and personal growth in all students and prepares them to succeed in college, careers, community and life.

Mission: “The mission of Fife Public Schools is to be equity-focused and committed to success for all, including dismantling barriers for historically marginalized groups. Recognizing, celebrating, and embracing the diversity in our students and staff, we will…”

  • Engage our students in rigorous, culturally responsive experiences that link learning to college, careers, community, and life
  • Foster staff collaboration
  • Provide a safe and supportive environment for all
  • Cultivate collaborative, long-lasting relationships with families/caregivers and strong partnerships with community.

Daily, our educators in the classroom, move young people forward, into their dreams and aspirations. I like that our words reflect that.



We are doing a lot of professional learning around Collective Efficacy. Just wrapped up several learning sessions with our building leadership teams. We studied and discussed the 4 sources of Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE), and the 5 enabling conditions that can lead to the aforementioned sources. As I’ve mentioned before we are using Leading Collective Efficacy by Jenni Donohoo and Stefani Arzonetti-Hite. We highly recommend this book!

One of the sources of CTE is ‘affective states’. Affective states can be negative or positive. We focused on the positive ones.

Turns out that working together, “collaborations where peers supported each other helped to diminish the effects of negative emotions and heighten the effects of positive emotions on efficacy.”

Our district just published its new ‘Strategic Direction’ document, after an extremely thorough series of listening and input sessions from stakeholders in in our community and district. Our Mission Statement is, “The mission of Fife Public Schools is to be equity-focused and committed to success for all, including dismantling barriers for historically marginalized groups. Recognizing, celebrating, and embracing the diversity in our students and staff, we will…

Two items at this point. First, note the bold all in the mission statement. That is emphasized on purpose. All. Second, what follows the mission statement are 4 bullets, listing our 4 goal areas.

Goal area number two is ‘Foster Staff Collaboration’. The team then identified ‘Pictures of Success’ for each goal area and for students, staff, families/caregivers.

The Pictures of Success for staff include:

  • Staff demonstrate strong collective efficacy with a lens for supporting all learners
  • Staff function as teams rather than groups of individuals
  • Leadership is the shared responsibility of all staff

Our Strategic Direction is just that. Our direction. Our journey. And the path to our journey includes all in our district, an expectation of collaboration, shared leadership, and collective efficacy.

Three student voice ideas.

In the old days, I was a wrestling coach. My colleague and I would routinely attend coaching clinics. We considered it a successful clinic if we came away with one good, useable idea for our team.

The same theory applies to reading excellent books. The book I just finished is Street Data, by @ShaneSafir and @JamilaDugan.

It’s an eye-opener and I definitely recommend it. I haven’t tallied up the great ideas yet, but here are three for sure, all centered on authentic student voice:

First idea. “Equity Learning Walks and Instructional Rounds: Students as Colleagues. If we want to understand the student experience, we need student observers by our side. Invite students to articulate their lenses and questions by asking, ‘What should we be paying attention to when we walk into classrooms?’” Having students not only join educators on school walks, but asking the students to tell educators what to look for. Yowzers!

Second idea. Joint student-teacher professional learning. “One high school in Des Moines, Iowa, decided to try joint student-teacher professional learning. In their first attempt, administrators brought forty-five students into conversation with seventy-two teachers around how to make learning more culturally inclusive and engaging (Superville, 2019). The school’s equity coach worked with the students behind the scenes to prepare them for this opportunity, including dress rehearsals with feedback. The dry run was so successful that soon, nearly one hundred students attended a staff PD to help teachers sharpen their lesson plans and make instruction more relevant.” We have had kids join staff in various formats, but not, to my recollection, ‘official professional learning’. I LOVE this idea.

Third idea. Students of all ages are perfectly capable of designing and leading lessons. “Imagine inviting your second graders to pair up and rotate leading a community circle once a week. As an English teacher, I designed an instructional routine called Read and Lead to foster student agency and literacy. Students paired up to study a segment of the class text (we were reading Beloved and then Othello at the time) and design an interactive lesson for a small group of peers. Each pair had the opportunity to teach a lesson in which their peers would not only participate but would also provide feedback. It was so much fun, and I watched many a shy learner build moxie and confidence. The process also created a common language around teaching and learning in the classroom.” Again, I know I’ve seen this in pockets, but not as an ongoing concern. A fantastic idea.

So, Street Data, has impacted my thinking in a whole bunch of ways and left a legacy of ideas to implement!

Here’s how a network works.

Our Teaching-Learning-Innovation team is in its second year of learning with the WASA ILN. Lots of letters there. Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA). Instructional Leadership Network (ILN). We are learning with and from leaders around our state. Our two primary learning leaders are Dr. Jenni Donohoo and Dr. Peter DeWitt. Learning leaders is a good way to describe their work with us. So is learning challengers. Here’s a challenge from Peter DeWitt that sticks with me:

In our own shop, we are working with our principals and assistant principals. Our work is centered on Leading Collective Efficacy and our source material is Leading Collective Efficacy by Jenni Donohoo and Stefani Arzonetti Hite. We next meet again with our building leaders in early November. Peter’s challenge has me pondering.

I’m pondering the exact questions Peter posed. Do we all know why we’re learning about CTE? Is there a problem? What is the problem we’re addressing? Do we have the skills to address the problem? And are we, as the PL people, providing what is needed to address the problem?

This is the power of a professional network. Smart, experienced people ask other smart, experienced people questions. Pose challenges, in the context of the focus. And then smart, experienced people reflect, to make sure that the thing is indeed the thing. I think the thing is the thing, but who am I? I need to find out of others see the thing as the thing. The thing, in my opinion, is the loss of a sense of efficacy by some, or a lot, of teachers. That what they do, when they do it, produces the outcome they seek. The past 3 years have provided a fertile environment for efficacy to be diminished. Putting it mildly.

So when we gather to learn together next, with our smart, experienced building leader people, we’re going to lean into Peter’s challenging questions. And we are having that important and powerful conversation because of our work in a professional learning network.

Thanks to WASA, Mike, Chris, Jenni, and Peter!

Ritualize Reflection and Revision

Recently, our superintendent mentioned the book Street Data by Shane Safir and Jamila Dugan. Then at a meeting with people who evaluate assistant principals and principals, the book was mentioned again. Each mention came with glowing reviews. So, I got the book. Put me in the glowing review camp. This blogpost will center on the ritualization of reflection and revision. Given that I’ve highlighted passages on just about every page, this is just where I’m going to start with my personal reflection and learning.

Excellent book.

As I’m assuming with everyone who reads things and thinks about things, I apply my experience. I apply my experience as a teacher, principal, and now assistant superintendent. And oddly enough, as my career rolls along, now in its 39th year, I’m astonished how much I don’t know and need to learn. This book helps me on that learning journey.

Here are just three ideas about the ritualization of reflection and revision. My teacher experience flat tells me how simple and powerful these ideas are, and on the off chance that anybody reads this blog, or reads this book, please consider these three ideas.

The premise. “Centering student voice doesn’t mean we stop giving feedback, but it does mean we shift our role from expert lecturer to expert coach, charged with the cognitive apprenticeship of students. Reflection and revision are two of our strongest tools in this regard and help students at the margins accelerate their skills over time.”

Favorite classroom move/idea number one: Begin a class period with time for students to reflect in writing and/or a turn and talk: What did you learn yesterday that stuck with you? What’s a concept that still feels confusing?

I picture this one in my math classroom. It’s pretty typical to take kid questions at the beginning of a math class. I like this idea better. Reflection and conversation.

Favorite classroom move/idea number two: End each week with a reflection protocol: What did I learn this week? What’s one thing I feel proud about? What’s one thing I’m still struggling with? Have them share their responses in small, ongoing peer groups and close with each student giving the peer to their left or right an appreciation.

Also picture this one in the context of a secondary math classroom. I LOVE the question, “What’s one thing I feel proud about?

Favorite classroom move/idea number two: Provide students with graphic organizers and structured protocols for giving each other feedback on their work. Teach them to sandwich feedback! “What I loved about this piece of work was … One question I had was … One suggestion I have is …”

One of the advantage of being a more senior educator, I was able to teach in a whole bunch of content areas. I love this move/idea in the context of both ELA and Social Studies classes.

I’m about halfway through the book and can’t wait to continue reading, learning, unlearning, and growing!

School Walk

This morning, we made another move to our new, latest normal. Our junior high building leadership team hosted a school walk!

The protocol for this walk is from NSRF, developed by Edorah Frazer and adapted from the work done by Steve Seidel.

Leaders pair up and walk through the school and classrooms:

  • What do you see?
  • What don’t you see?
  • What do you wonder about?
  • What do you think this school is working on?

Then the groups return and call out thoughts relative to the above inquiries. The building leadership captures the input without comment. When all have had the chance to share, then the building leaders reflect on that which they have heard. What was a surprise? Was it interesting? What is new?

Then the group talks about the implications for education and debriefs the protocol itself.

The observations, comments, insights, and learning were rich and profound. To a person, we were thrilled to see kids learning and engaging with teachers who clearly were engaged with the kids. It felt, sounded, and looked fantastic.

We learned a lot about ourselves over the last 4 years. We have brought the challenges into clear focus, and this school, with its gifted leadership and passionate educators are getting after it.

Please let me know where I can join you in your learning.

Monte Syrie hits another home run. Check out the image below.

In a lot of ways, I’m a simple guy. I like seemingly simple ideas. This idea might appear to be seemingly simple. But look a little more closely. It’s elegant. It’s nuanced and has layers.

With the invitation to engage in a support cycle, the student chooses where they/she/he enters the conversation. And of course, the list of entry points provides a lovely roadmap for a student to consider where he/she/they are in the personal learning process.


The list also highlights the array of tools a professional educator can bring to a student’s learning.


And man, the opportunity afforded a student and a teacher for a RICH learning conversation is stunning. The list is a script. A brainstorm. Conversation starters, icebreakers, etc.


And don’t get me started on, “Please let me know where I can join you in your learning.”

I’m going all the way back to Horace Mann when I consider the impact of that invitation.

“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.”

It’s not hard to imagine a kid being inspired and motivated by this process.

Sometimes a graphic.

Once again, Liz and Mollie bring me to a screeching halt with a seemingly simple, attractive little graphic.

Simple? Yes. Instantly creates self-reflection and pause? Oh yeah. I know I am too often guilty of being ‘Person 1’ on the ‘ineffective team.’

So what do we do when we know better? We do better. Got a meeting coming up in about 20 minutes. Good chance to be Person 1 on the effective team.

Thank you, as always, Liz and Mollie.

Good things.

Happy reunion.

Good things can be simple things. Things taken for granted, then taken away. The simple joy of together and whole. Reunited.

Reminds me of one of my favorite ideas:

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” -Kurt Vonnegut Jr.